Over the weekend, Alibaba’s flagship C2C ecommerce platform Taobao circulated a memo to its vendors announcing that QR codes with links to external websites would no longer be allowed. “We have discovered some sellers are using QR codes with external links to circumvent the normal transaction process,” reads a section of the memo as reprinted on TechWeb (our translation). New image uploads with externally-linking QR codes will not be allowed; those vendors who already have uploaded such images to the site have one month to remove them.
Alibaba’s memo frames the move as one that will protect consumers from advertising and fraud by ensuring that all transactions are carried out on Taobao’s secure payment platform. But critics have suggested that the move could also be a swipe at Tencent’s WeChat chat app, which is very QR code-friendly and which has just introduced its own mobile payment system.
While concerns about fraud certainly seem reasonable, it’s also reasonable to assume that Taobao — like any company — isn’t going to facilitate competition, and allowing externally-linked QR codes would likely make it easy for Taobao vendors to complete transactions through WeChat, essentially keeping Taobao completely out of the loop.
We’ve contacted Alibaba for comment and will update this story if we hear back.